Sixteen thousand feet is a noisy place to be. Only the buzz of spinning propellers can be heard over the unsteady beat of air roaring past. Everything is vibrating. The droning bass of busy pistons almost feels familiar, like a lullaby occasionally interrupted by bouts of disorienting turbulence. Yet the vast abundance of emptiness surrounding us just makes the cabin feel even more cramped. Fortunately, it was only built to do one thing: fly. But with the abundance of jumbo jets and frequent-flier miles, only the fragility of a single propeller can force us to appreciate the impossibility of living in this unforgiving environment. Only the crazy fall in love sixteen thousand feet above home.
The discomfort is comforting – it serves as reminder that we were meant for earth, not the stars. My mind, shrouded in a fog of fear, demands to focus on every knob and bolt on the verge of failure. The infinite ocean of blue is mocking me, and I catch myself staring at the blurry specks floating in my eye. A quick check of the instruments reveals surprisingly steady measurements. Maybe I’ll be the heroic pilot once I learn how to fly. The shiny white paint is gleaming back; the sun too bright to see. Perhaps I should close my eyes and step away from reality.
It is cold. The wind is brutal, stealing the warmth of bright rays and adrenaline dilation. My nervous sweat is soaking my shirt, yet the air is bone dry, leaving me dehydrated and tearing. I blink. It does nothing. I grope the freezing tube above me with my clammy hands and anxiously survey the roughness of the bare metal. I can only hope that being frozen is a valid option. Goose bumps surface all over my arm, bringing little black hairs to attention, like sails trying to catch the wind. Maybe I’ll be blown off after my stamina runs out. Hopefully I don’t piss my pants first, they won’t dry before we land.
My eyes survey the ground for the thousandth time in the past minute, scoping out nothing but repeating terrain and a fear of heights. Houses seem like huge Legos, begging to be accidentally targeted, only to harm us in return. Trees are a bit more appealing. Missing the grass fields seems likely, especially the landing area. I don’t know what I am looking for in the first place. At the moment, landing appears to be more fate than skill. I hope I leave at a lucky time.
I am unconvinced this is fun. Yet I am here, breathing half the oxygen I would have in a hospitable environment while staring past 150 miles of rolling hills to find where the sky meets the earth. It is literally breathtaking. I don’t remember how she convinced me, but I fell in love with her insanity long ago. But usually I prefer dates where we can hear each other. Maybe she’s driving me crazy.
Her nipples are poking my backside, a pointy reminder that breasts aren’t cushions on some fancy office chair. It would be more like a supercar seat though, considering that we’re strapped together by buckles not meant to separate, especially in the case of an accident. She told me to leave five minutes ago, when the dirt was fifteen minutes softer. Instead, I’m stuck trying to remember the perfect pose for keeping myself alive while barreling towards the center of the Earth, which I conveniently learned half an hour ago, and promptly forgot. At this rate, I’ll get to the hand signals in graduate school, and finish my doctorate in parachute release after that.
Bored, she spent the flight putting on makeup. Dark eyeliner, with long lashes. Her life is abundant in confidence, with each day building on the one before. Hailing from Australia, with a spectacularly foul mouth and colloquialisms only cute to her boyfriend, nothing could stop her. I wanted to ask her if she had ever lived in Hong Kong; it almost seemed likely that she would’ve led a street gang there in a prior life. But her story about trekking through the farms of Tunisia on camel and struggling to speak Arabic left me filled with laughter and a newfound respect for gold jewelry. I don’t think I could appreciate serendipity more than the moment we met.
We are opposites, morbidly fascinated with how the other half lives, yet obsessed with improving our lives. Her excitement is only matched by my practicality; her optimism by my pessimism. She is already mentally miles ahead, celebrating the freefall that hasn’t yet happened. I admire that boundless positivity, with that carefree personality. I don’t know if I can deal with it. But here we are, in a game of mile-high bondage with nowhere else to go.
It’s easy to say that she is not afraid of death, but it is me who is in love with it. Dying is a release from living, a way to step away, without the hassle. She is in love with living. Her obsession with thrill would sometimes keep her from finishing, yet she would appreciate the experience, never cherish it. I am a perfectionist trying to craft a perfect life, forever planning for the unforeseen contingency. Jumping out of a plane doesn’t seem to be a strategy for anything besides learning how to live. I am still holding on, wondering if life in this godforsaken Cessna is really where life has led me.
Maybe I just need to learn how to let go.